Urgent Request to Address the Mounting Backlog of Special Education Assessments by Immediately Contracting with Non- District, Outside Assessors

Urgent Request to Address the Mounting Backlog of Special Education Assessments by Immediately Contracting with Non- District, Outside Assessors

Disability Rights California (DRC) urges the Board of Education for the Sacramento City Unified School District to force the District to contract immediately with non-District, outside assessors to reduce the District’s special education assessment backlog by July 31, 2021.

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Urgent Request to Address the Mounting Backlog of Special Education Assessments by Immediately Contracting with Non- District, Outside Assessors

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To: Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education, and Board Members Pritchett, Murawski, Woo, Garcia, Villa, Rhodes, and Phillips

Re: Urgent Request to Address the Mounting Backlog of Special Education Assessments by Immediately Contracting with Non-District, Outside Assessors

Disability Rights California (DRC) urges the Board of Education for the Sacramento City Unified School District to force the District to contract immediately with non-District, outside assessors to reduce the District’s special education assessment backlog by July 31, 2021.

When the pandemic began, the District halted all special education assessments, although this flatly violates state and federal law. Hundreds of District students are now in dire need of assessments, some waiting over a year. In February 2021, the District promised to reduce its backlog of special education assessments by 20% each month for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year. And the District agreed to hire non-District, outside assessors if it did not achieve the promised reductions.

Since then, the District has made virtually no progress on its overdue assessments and risks losing millions of dollars in federal funding as a result. Worse, the District revoked its promise to hire outside assessors if it does not reduce the assessment backlog. DRC joins the chorus of District families, CAC members, advocates, and community organizations calling on the Board to intervene. The District must immediately hire outside assessors to complete assessments for the hundreds of disabled students who need these so urgently, especially as they return to in-person learning.

A. CDE told the District to eliminate its special education assessment backlog by July 31, 2021, and hire outside assessors.

The California Department of Education (CDE) has conducted two investigations into the District’s failure to conduct special education assessments.1 In both, CDE found that the District illegally delayed assessments. It ordered the District to eliminate its backlog of special education assessments by July 31, 2021, and to contract with “qualified, non-District, contracted assessors,” if necessary.

The District did not dispute CDE’s decision and committed to reduce its special education assessment backlog by 20% each month and hire outside assessors if could not meet this target.2 After the District reached an agreement with the teacher union regarding assessments, it reiterated this promise to hire outside assessors as needed.3

On April 8, 2021, CDE threatened to withhold millions of dollars in special education funds because the District has failed to submit required reports on its progress with assessments.4 As we discuss below, the problem is not simply missing reports but a complete abdication of the District’s duties to its students and their families. 

B. In its new agreement with the Teachers Union, the District has abandoned its commitment to reduce its assessment backlog by 20% or hire outside assessors. 

Without explanation, and after months of inaction, the District rescinded its commitment to reduce the special education assessment backlog by 20% per month. To make matters worse, the District no longer plans to hire non-district, outside assessors to assist with the backlog of hundreds of special education assessments.

On April 12, 2021, the District and its Teachers’ Union entered into an amended and woefully inadequate agreement.5 Four days after receiving CDE’s warning that it may withhold special education funding because of the assessment backlogs, the District signed an agreement that voided its commitment to reduce the assessment backlog by 20% each month for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year. Under the new agreement, the District does not commit to reduce the assessment backlog at all. In fact, the District and Union do not even agree to hire non-district outside assessors. Instead, the District assessors are allowed to choose if they would like to work an additional ten hours per week to complete some of the backlog assessments.

Complying with CDE’s corrective actions, however, is not a choice that can be left up to selected teachers. This Board must ensure that the District clears its backlog in assessments by hiring outside contractors, or risk a financial disaster that will injure every student in the District.

C. The District has failed to reduce the backlog of delayed special education assessments by 20%, as promised.

In the past two months and with the District’s reopening of schools, the District has not completed 20% of the outstanding special education assessments per month, as promised.

On February 18, 2021, Christine Baeta, the District’s Chief Academic Officer, reported that the District had 851 overdue special education assessments.6 Seven weeks later, the District told the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) that it had completed only 100 out of the 851 overdue assessments. This is a reduction of 12% in the special education assessment backlog, which is far below the promised reduction by District. Alarmingly, the District refused to provide an update to committee and community members during the April 20, 2021, CAC meeting.

Other data suggests that the backlog is actually getting worse, given new assessment requests. On February 12, 2021, the District reported to CDE that it had a total of 398 outstanding initial special education assessments. But, a month later, on March 12, 2021, the District reported that it now had a total of 399 outstanding initial special education assessments.

Finally, DRC represents a number of District students waiting for special education assessments. The District’s attorneys have recently admitted to DRC staff that it had not started in-person special education assessments as of the end of March, 2021.

D. The District is likely under-reporting the extent of the assessment backlog.  

Alarmingly, the backlog of overdue assessments is likely even larger than the District has reported. Based on reports from families, the following groups of students are not included in the list of needed assessments:

  • Students who received inadequate record reviews in lieu of in-person assessments when told they would otherwise face a long delay;
  • Students whose parents gave up when told the District was not conducting assessments during the pandemic; and
  • Students with disabilities stuck in the Student Support Team process despite making requests for a special education assessment.

These families must have the opportunity to be added to the District’s list of needed assessments.

E. Disabled students urgently need assessments to prepare for their return to in-person instruction.

Neither the District nor its students can afford for the District to further delay assessments. The educational cost to students is too great. Many of the students on the District’s assessment backlog have been waiting for special education assessments since the 2019-2020 school year. Without assessments, the students waiting for triennial evaluations may be receiving services and supports that do not address their current needs.

Worse, the students awaiting initial special education assessments had to navigate distance learning during the COVID-19 school closures without the services and supports that come with special education eligibility. This updated assessment information is especially crucial as students with disabilities are struggling to overcome the learning loss they experienced from COVID-19 school closures.7 Without the information an assessment provides, these students will miss critical learning opportunities.

The District cannot financially afford to further delay these special education assessments. Each and every one of these students accrue even larger compensatory education claims with each passing day.

In addition, CDE has warned the District that it risks losing its special education funding if the District continues to ignore CDE’s corrective actions. The District cannot afford to delay addressing the backlog of assessments any longer. 

Conclusion

The Board must act now. We ask the Board to require the District to:

  1. Hire non-District, outside assessors within the next 15 days to reduce the District’s outstanding special education assessments by - at minimum - 1/3 per month;
  2. Ensure that all outstanding initial and triennial special education assessments are completed by July 31, 2021;
  3. Provide a letter to every District family that states that (a) students suspected of having a disability have a right to appropriate special education assessments, (b) that these students never lost this right during the pandemic-related school closures, and (c) families can request compensatory education during IEP meetings for those students found eligible for special education after months of delay or for those students who did not have appropriate IEPs because of delayed special education assessments; and
  4. Publish the number of outstanding initial and triennial special education assessments the District completes each week from February 12, 2021 through July 31, 2021 on the District’s Reopening Dashboard.8

The District’s failure to take action to date signals the District is unable - and perhaps unwilling -to comply with its duty to assess its students for special education. Unless the District acts swiftly to implement the above requests in the coming days, DRC will ask CDE to exercise its authority to take over assessment responsibilities and directly contract with non-District assessors.9

Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter. Please contact Suge Lee or Ramaah Sadasivam with Disability Rights California at AssessSacCity@disabiltiyrightsca.org or (916) 504-5800 to discuss further.10

Enclosures

Sent via Email to the following:

Members of the Board of Education
Sacramento City Unified School District
5735 47th Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95824-4528

Emails:
Christina-Pritchett@scusd.edu
Lisa-Murawski@scusd.edu
Darrel-Woo@scusd.edu
Leticia-Garcia@scusd.edu
Jamee-Villa@scusd.edu
Chinua-Rhodes@scusd.edu
Lavinia-Phillips@scusd.edu

CC:
Raoul Bozio, District In-House Counsel, via email only, Raoul-Bozio@scusd.edu

Heather Calomese, Director of Special Education for the California Department of Education, via email only, HCalomese@cde.ca.gov